After the 1-6 beatdown by Pittsburgh, I thought this trip through California would end with the New Jersey Devils carrying a five-game losing streak. All three teams are battling each other for the Pacific Division crown. The winner gets a wild card opponent. The runner-up gets home ice against the other in-state rival. Third place, which is what San Jose occupied, gets diddly squat beyond a playoff trip. Needless to say, all three teams have something to play for. The New Jersey Devils, on the other hand, have recently looked like a team that isn't on the level of those teams. However, games are played on the ice and not on paper. Last night, New Jersey entered the Shark Tank and left with three goals and none allowed. Yes, the Devils spoiled San Jose with a shutout win.
I will admit that I'm writing this based on summaries and highlights. Given the lateness of last night's game for local time (I am in New Jersey) combined with the fact that it's a weeknight (the real job awaits in the morning), I decided to get a decent night's sleep, provide a quick summary recap, and then watch the game and add further comments later. This way, I can function through the work day, I can watch the game without feeling like a zombie, and you still have a place to read this recap and discuss the game within six hours of it ending. Everyone wins, I think. Except those who wanted to see the Devils fall in the standings. This result does not help you.
For those who aren't all-in on a all-out drop to close the season, this result has to be exciting to see. Although, the game featured key elements of what we've seen this season. Keith Kinkaid made thirty stops to get the shutout. Devante Smith-Pelly opened up the scoring, and Travis Zajac provided an important cushion with two third period goals. Include an empty net goal, something the Devils haven't had too many of this season (six in total). By shots and attempts, the first period appeared to go decently. Shortly after Smith-Pelly's early goal in the second period, we got to see what one would fear in this game: San Jose dominating the rink. The second period ended with the Sharks out-attempting the Devils 32-12 and out-shooting them 16-3. Kinkaid earned his shutout tonight. The third period was more even. Despite the Devils extending their lead to two goals, the attempts and shots were a more reasonable 18-10 and 8-6, respectively, in favor of San Jose. That's a grand total of 67 attempts by the home team to New Jersey's 37; the shots on net were similarly skewed in favor of San Jose with 30 to New Jersey's 16. In short, it appears to me the Devils got a goal, held on for dear life in the second and gave all the props to Kinkaid in intermission, got another goal, and then played the way out before Zajac sealed the game.
After looking at the goals, I'm left feeling pretty impressed. Plenty of credit for the first goal should go to Stephen Gionta. After Larsson fires the puck around the boards, Mike Sislo one-touches a pass to Gionta so he can go forward. He skates well past Brandon Dillon and eludes Melker Karlsson in the neutral zone to make a good pass to Smith-Pelly. He fired a great shot at the top of the left (his left) circle before Roman Polak engaged him; and the shot beat Martin Jones clean. Very nice. I wish the Devils put up an actual shot on net after that goal in the second, but San Jose made sure that wasn't going to happen. It didn't. Probably for the best as New Jersey's first shot on net in the third period - and their first since the goal - went in. After Travis Zajac and Kyle Palmieri battled for a puck behind the net, Zajac won it and went around the net to Jones' right. Zajac curled and fired a high shot. Jones stopped it but the puck popped up and dropped behind him. Brent Burns and Jones dove to try to clear the puck before it trickled in. However, Burns' stick knocked the puck off the post and into the net. Fortunate? Yes. Did it help? You bet. The empty net goal came from a fortuitous block. With Jones pulled and Palmieri getting a stick from the bench, the Sharks had a brief 6-on-4. Logan Couture unloaded a shot from distance. It was not only stopped by Reid Boucher's body, but Boucher was able to deny it with his glove and place the puck down so he could play it. He skated it out - the right move for a zone exit - and played it across to Zajac streaking up the left (his left) side. This made it easy to get past Couture and Zajac put home the empty net goal to seal the game. So: a good shot in the face of pressure, a break for an insurance goal, and a solid ENG. I'm pleased.
Based on what I see at HockeyStats and Natural Stat Trick (links a little later in this post), it appears that the Devils caught a little break match-up wise at even strength. The Joe Thornton line did decently but they didn't dominate the Devils. Their Patrick Marleau-led third line wasn't so hot. The other two lines for San Jose were much better at evens. So when I watch this in full, I'm going to expect to see Dainius Zubrus, Chris Tierney, and Melker Karlsson look rather strong. On the Devils' side, this looks like a pretty awful game for the Devils' fourths. The young-ish third line of Sislo (he's 28, he's not that young), Sergey Kalinin, and Joseph Blandisi also looked like they had their lunch (late night snack?) handed to them. While Smith-Pelly scored and Tyler Kennedy actually finished above 50% CF% in a game (weird), the Adam Henrique-led line got out-shot at evens pretty bad. At least the Zajac line did well in their match up and this was a game where Adam Larsson and Andy Greene played a lot and didn't get killed in possession because of who they faced. I think it would have gone much worse had Thornton's line been "on form." Even so, that second period looked ugly for nearly the whole team.
Of course, the star of the night surely has to be Keith Kinkaid. A quick peek at the shot locations at HockeyStats shows a lot of shots and misses by San Jose in the slot and in front of the crease. I'm thinking that Kinkaid really had to be very good tonight. The goalie usually does when the team's out-shot 30-16 and the final result is a big, fat zero for the opposition. Some of the highlights at NHL.com confirm this. From denying Marleau on a 2-on-1 and his rebound attempt to stopping a shot by Dainius Zubrus in the high slot with his head, Kinkaid appeared to be sensational in net. I wish the highlight video had more of those saves instead of many replays and the ruling on the second goal, but I didn't make the video.
One last tidbit from the Gamethread, apparently this game is the first time the Devils shut out the Sharks in twenty years. Nice.
The Game Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The Natural Stat Trick Advanced Stats | The HockeyStats.ca Advanced Stats
The Opposition Opinion: Jake Sundstrom has this summary of the game at Fear the Fin. Apparently, Brent Burns had an empty net on a power play but he couldn't settle the puck and missed the net. It's OK. Burns did score a goal in the game - for New Jersey.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here's a highlight video in a strangely sized frame:
Additional Thoughts After Watching the Whole Thing: The game went about as I suspected from seeing the stats. That second period was pretty much all San Jose, all the time after Smith-Pelly's goal. The Devils maybe had one or two extended stays in San Jose's end. It was a bit crushing to see the attempts just turn into nothing: miss, miss, block, block, zone exit for San Jose. I knew it was coming, but it wasn't any easier.
While he had many more shots to stop in the second, I think Kinkaid had to make his most difficult saves in the third. The one that stood out to me was when he made a tough pad stop on Joe Pavelski in the slot. Pavelski used Adam Larsson as a screen, which made it a tougher situation for the goalie. But Kinkaid came through. Pavelski felt he should've finished that play, yet #1 denied him. Very nice. He got a little help from John Moore, though. During a third period power play - thanks to Tyler Kennedy closing his hand on the puck - Brent Burns missed a shot and had an empty net as he caught up to his own rebound. He sent it wide but Moore's leg helped keep it out. It was nervy to watch because hockey is a funny game and the puck could have easily bounced off Moore's leg and gone in. Thankfully, it didn't.
Speaking of Moore, I'd say he was a little better tonight. David Schlemko, too. I don't really want to see much of a David Warsofsky-Seth Helgeson pairing. I wasn't impressed by either. Yet, as long as Damon Severson is struggling and Merrill is playing like I don't know what he wants to be as a defender, I can't say it's been that bad.
As far as power plays go, while they weren't as prolific as they were under Todd McLellan and his staff, they looked rather strong on the PP tonight. It's the sort of thing that I want the Devils to take the tape, put it on, and say, "Like this. Do it like this." Of course, the Devils don't have a Joe Thornton or a Brent Burns, so that's a bit difficult. I was impressed by theirs. Less so by New Jersey.
While the first and third periods were more even, I will say that the Sharks seemingly had an easier time when they went on offense. Their zone entries allowed their players to get into more pockets of space. Their passing led them to more opportunities. The Devils' defense was able to make plays when they caught up and started to apply the pressure. Off the rush, that wasn't there and San Jose looked their best doing so. In contrast, the Devils seemed to struggle more in gaining the zone. They took pressure with them as they went in and it seemed like there had to be a battle or two won before the offense could get something going. The neutral zone play clearly favored the Sharks overall, but it wasn't just because they dominated the middle frame of the game.
Lastly, I was surprised to see Kyle Palmieri nearly making it 3-0 about nine minutes into the third. He went for a poke as Jones nearly had another puck trickle just past him. But Jones was able to get a glove on it. That was something that didn't come up in the numbers and highlights; but I thought he had a go at it. Good for him, the Devils could use more of that.
Your Take: I will comeback later tonight and add additional thoughts from the game as I see fit. In the meantime, I leave the comments to you. What did you make of the game, assuming you saw it? Are you pleased with the 3-0 win? Was anyone good other than Kinkaid? Does this bode well for their game in Los Angeles on Saturday night? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on the win in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who decided sleep is overrated and/or lived in a better time zone for this one and commented on the game in the Gamethread. Thank you for reading.